Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Scrapping the Human Rights Act?

What a bad idea. Pretty much sums it up really but amazingly it was one of the Tory plans for government and now they've set up a review of it. The whole thing came back to life after this story broke the other day and there was the normal outrage from the likes of the Daily Mail and the Sun about how you could protect someone's rights.

Whenever something like this comes up there's a predictable knee jerk reaction against the act and people will start bleating that it's only useful to terrorists and criminals. That just isn't right. If you haven't had to use the Act to defend your rights it doesn't mean it doesn't work for you, it just means you're lucky enough to live in a country where fundamental rights are rarely challenged. Just because an Act isn't used constantly it doesn't mean it's irrelevant, its just there as a safety net in case your rights are ever challenged. The rights in it are things that I think most people would consider important defending; the right to life, to liberty and security, to a fair trial, to a private family life. And then there's prohibition of torture, of slavery, discrimination and of punishment without law. It also gives freedom of thought, expression and of assembly. To do away with an act as wide-ranging in favour of a narrower Bill of Rights is a terrible idea. The human rights act means that we can defend our rights in Britain, without having to go to a European court.

I can see why the press finds it so easy to whip up dislike for the Act but you have to carefully read the stories. If you look at how the story earlier was reported, the headlines imply that these two terrorists are allowed to stay in a cosy house in the countryside, when actually they will be in prison (with one on bail and having his movement monitored),  neither are convicted of terrorist offences.

Do I think that terrorists are worthy of the same respect as law-abiding citizens? No, they deserve to pay for their crimes and be punished. But everyone has the right to protection against torture. I know people will disagree with me on my desire to stop terrorists being deported, but there comes a stage when you have to decide on fundamental rights that apply universally regardless of how much you dislike someone's actions. Whilst these are terrible crimes, we have to retain our moral authority and say that certain things can never be allowed lest we come to crave pain as much as those we seek to punish. We scrapped capital punishment on those grounds, and torture should be given the same prohibition. Deporting them would have been tantamount to being involved in the torture by association.

When you talk about Human Rights, don't let knee jerk reaction rule your thoughts, but try and think about just how important it is that whilst so many things change, we have a set of rules that will stay the same and protect us.

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